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The Humanitarian Approach to Nuclear Weapons Decision Making




Humanitarian perspectives have resulted in the prohibition of nuclear weapons:

For many years, the discourse about nuclear weapons had been about megatonnage, size, numbers. Concerns about NEEDS and the morally correct thing to do were absent from these discourses. So freedom from fear, freedom to live in a peaceful environment seemed to become irrelevant to the larger narratives about ‘no first use’, weapons renewal systems, START, NPT and the other well-managed ‘talks’. It is the case that these ‘talks’ and their narrative background emerge from a Rights-based approach: the right to acquire nuclear weapons; the right to maintain, enhance and renew these systems; the right to transport, host and police the environment, community, even the State within which these weapons systems are placed. Over the past decade that Rights-based approach has been challenged by proponents of an Humanitarian Initiative. Gatherings have been held in Oslo, Nayarit and Austria (1) where it has been argued that international security must rest on a commitment to joint survival rather than a threat of mutual destruction. Human security – real human security – lies in the expectation of well-being that is found in protection against harm of all kinds, of the meeting of basic needs, of the experience of human dignity and the fulfilment of human rights for a healthy natural environment capable of sustaining life. Now, because of the pressure through coherent articulation by civil society, States Parties at the UN have had to take on board the outrageous humanitarian consequences of any accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons. Although historically it may have been politically expedient to advance ‘necessity’ and ‘proportionality’ arguments of individual States possessing the ‘deterrent’, it has become evident that the catastrophic impact of the weapons is disproportionate, discriminatory and creates unnecessary suffering. That being the case, the whole architecture of the infrastructure of nuclear weapons is against Humanitarian Law. This understanding and its coherent articulation at the UN, has resulted in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which came into force last Friday, 22 January 2021. The same principles for Humanitarian Law could apply to human rights, rights which have historically been treated as individual rights (economic, political, social). It is now more important than ever to focus on the collective humanitarian impact of when these rights are denied or abused. In the same way as an articulation by civil society resulted in Humanitarianism being the underlying legal principle of the TPNW, we in Scotland have the opportunity to enshrine Human Rights within the paradigm of Humanitarianism. This is an especially important time when Scotland is seeking to improve its citizens' rights through the new framework put forward by the First Minister's Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership. We live in hope that these concerns and widespread political support for humanitarian principles will be enshrined in the 2021 Incorporation of Human Rights into Scotland’s law.

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